As Ottawa ponders public pot ban, Denver opens door to smoking rooms

As the City of Ottawa begins to ponder its options for regulating marijuana — including an outright ban on public consumption of the drug — Denver, Colo., is setting the stage for legal smoking rooms, and at least one pot advocate there is recommending this city loosen up.

'It's time to end that feeling of shame,' Denver applicant cautions Ottawa

The owner of Mutiny, a café in Denver, Colo., is hoping to license his business as one of the nation's first legal marijuana clubs. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

As the City of Ottawa begins to ponder its options for regulating marijuana — including an outright ban on public consumption of the drug — Denver, Colo., is setting the stage for legal smoking rooms, and at least one pot advocate there is recommending this city loosen up.

Denver is about to become the first jurisdiction in North America to license businesses for the public consumption of marijuana, long considered a glaring policy hole in Colorado's relatively liberal pot laws.

You can't half-legalize something.- Taylor Rosean, marijuana business licence co-applicant

"It's time to end that feeling of shame," said Taylor Rosean, who's working with a group applying to open a new business in downtown Denver called "Vape and Play," where patrons will be able to consume marijuana using cannabis vaporizers.

When pot became legal in Colorado in 2014, Denver's bylaws forbade its smoking in public spaces, including parks. The regulations also prevented tourists, renters and some condo owners from smoking marijuana legally, anywhere. 

Rosean said that forced people "in the shadows" to smoke, and he's recommending Ottawa learn from his city's mistakes and start its legal pot regime off on the right foot.

"You can't half-legalize something," said Rosean. "You're just going to have an increase in community friction, citations and illegal public consumption."

Levy calls for ban

Late Monday afternoon Ottawa's chief medical officer, Isra Levy, will table his recommendations for how the city should approach the impending legalizion of marijuana. 

Among them, Levy is calling for the prohibition of "smoking and vaping of cannabis in any enclosed public space, workplace or prescribed place as defined in the Smoke Free Ontario Act and the Electronic Cigarette Act" — in other words, all the restrictions on smoking tobacco in public would be extended to cover marijuana.

But Levy goes further, calling on city council to "ban the public consumption of cannibis," period.

Other cities rethinking strict rules

Levy's call for a ban comes as U.S. cities including Denver and Oakland, Calif., where a state referendum last November paved the way for the legalization of marijuana, are rethinking the strict approach.

Unlike the original draft of Colorado's pot law, California's Proposition 64 allows for on-site consumption at licensed establishments, though a marijuana licence prohibits the sale of alcohol or tobacco at the same location.

In Denver, Initiative 300, supported by a narrow 54 per cent of voters, has opened the door to a four-year pilot project regulating "consumption establishments" where customers will be able to consume marijuana in outdoor areas that aren't visible from the street, such as courtyards or rear patios.

Ten would-be proprietors have come forward, including coffee shops, book stores and a yoga studio, according to city spokesperson Daniel Rowland.

Currently marijuana retailers cannot allow consumption on site, Rowland wrote in an email, however "we fully expect licensed store or centre owners and operators to seek out locations neighbouring their existing storefronts as a way to provide a consumption space for their customers."

The issue remains controversial even in Denver, where some community groups are lobbying to retain the stricter rules. 

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